The Explainer: National Security State

We often hear the term “national security.” I don’t think many of us knows what it means. We may associate it with Americans and their government, but the doctrine of national security is an American legacy warmly embraced by our home-grown officials.

So what’s national security? It’s a powerful idea. What that idea is, and why it’s so powerful, is our task for tonight.

I’m Manolo Quezon, The Explainer.


I. Containment


I wonder if you’ve heard of something called the Madyaas Confederacy. Probably not. It’s a movement whose prime mover is Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor –not that Defensor’s movement has moved in any direction.

But part of Defensor’s movement is a mission pointer on national security. Now national security is a term you and I may not care about, but which is important to government people the world over. And to understand why, we have to go back to June 24, 1945.

On that day, the Soviet Union held a victory parade in Moscow, to commemorate Germany surrender a month earlier.

The parade’s crowning event was one harking back to ancient Rome. In front of Lenin’s mausoleum, Soviet troops hurled down the captured banners and standards of the Third Reich. That moment was commemorated by the Soviet artist Mikhail Khmelko.

A month after that, from July to August, 1945, on the outskirts of the ruins of Moscow, the so-called “Big Three” Met. Clement Attlee, prime minister of the UK, Harry S. Tuman, President of the USA, and Marshal Josef Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union.  They settled some lingering issues from the War in Europe, but what’s relevant to tonight’s story is that President Truman went away convinced that the Soviets would be America’s geopolitical rivals for decades to come.

With the defeat of the Nazis, Europe was divided between East and West. The dividing line was called the Iron Curtain by Churchill in a famous speech, and for a time, there were countries in which the dividing line seemed capable of being shifted in the years 1945-1948.

In Italy, Pope Pius XII was said to have ordered cloistered nuns to go out and vote, to prevent a Communist victory in a referendum on the form of government the country would adopt.

In Greece, the British supported the monarchy while the Soviets supported Communist partisans in a civil war. By February, 1947, the British were forced to announce they lacked the manpower and money to keep funding their side of the civil war.

America stepped into the vacuum. It proclaimed the Truman Doctrine and unveiled the Marshall Plan. The Truman Doctrine said the USA would financially support Greece and Turkey to prevent their falling under Soviet influence.

The Marshall Plan was the extension of American financial support, to Western European economies, also to keep them free, capitalist, and Soviet-free.

This was called a policy of containment by George F. Kennan, and widely seen as the beginning of the Cold War.

As Early as 1943, Kennan had argued within American foreign policy circles that a confrontation with America’s World War II ally, would be inevitable. As the Soviets behaved more and more aggressively towards the Americans, Kennan’s views gathered strength.

As part of America’s preparations for returning to a peacetime economy, there’d been a profound reorganization of the American defense  establishment began after victory over Japan was achieved. These changes included replacing the Department of War with a Department of National Defense, and spilled over to foreign policy issues, and the creation of professional intelligence agencies (particularly the creation of the CIA). As part of these changes, a Policy Planning Staff was established by President Truman.

In the wake of the Truman Doctrine, strategic staffwork headed by Kennan drafted a law, the National Security Act of 1947.

The law, in turn, set up a National Security Council as  the vehicle for coordinating national security policy.

By 1948, the first American Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, asked the Policy Planning Staff to develop a national security strategy: this would be unveiled as NSC-20/4, that is, policy paper 20, revision 4.


In NSC-40 the United States was presented with a menu of strategic choices:

A. The First Course- Continuation of Current Policies, with Current and Currently Projected Programs for Carrying Out These Projects.

B. The Second Course—Isolation.

C. The Third Course—War.

D. The Remaining Course of Action -A Rapid Build-up of Political, Economic, and Military Strength in the Free World.


Americans decided on Plan D.


But some world events began to make Americans wonder if they had the luxury of time with regards to a confrontation with the Soviets. In June, 1948, the Soviets sealed off Berlin and the famous Berlin Airlift began.

By September 1949, the Americans were shocked to discover the Soviets had exploded their first atomic bomb, breaking the American monopoly on nuclear weapons –and a full three years ahead of American intelligence predictions.

The next month, in October 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established in Beijing and America’s ally, Chiang Kai Shek fled to Taiwan.

By January 1950, American concern was over not only the growth in the Communist bloc, but also whether the USA or the Soviets would be the first to build the hydrogen bomb. Truman ordered the reexamination of national security strategy.

This came to be known as NSC-68, and again went through four revisions. It was adopted in September,1950, three months after North Korea invaded South Korea with Chinese and Soviet help. This document is considered one of the most significant in American security strategy.

In November 1950, a Chinese counterattack in the Korean War led American policymakers to decide that its plans had to be accelerated. In December 1950, Truman, in compliance with that revision, NSC-40/4, proclaimed a state of national emergency in the USA, and said America’s policy henceforth would not only be local, but global, containment.

How to understand the policy of containment, when we return.


II. Dominoes


Now we can understand the policy of containment according an analogy described by Paul Nitze, Kennan’s colleague then successor, who in his day was a respected thinker on national security matters.

Nitze once wrote that warfare had long included the siege as a tactical option.

We’ve all heard and read of famous sieges During World War II, from Bataan to Stalingrad. Douglas MacArthur had also perfected island-hopping, a kind of siege. You isolated strong Japanese garrisons and leapfrogged to other less fortified islands. The isolated Japanese would wither on the vine while you kept moving closer to Japan.

Let’s use this toy castle to illustrate. What happens, he asked, if your enemy retreats into his castle?

Keep him bottled up until he dies of starvation or disease. The defensive enemy is a handicapped enemy.

Now what if, Nitze asked, your strategy, your whole principle of fighting the enemy, involved keeping the enemy bottled up in its castles? Their capacity for mischief would be less. And the tendency for time to wear down the enemy’s morale and resources would be on your side.

But for containment to work, you would have to ensure a world generally hostile to the Soviets, or where they’d be monitored and countered on every front. It took some time for American officials to be willing to commit to this permament state of paranoia.

Remember Paul Nitze’s description of containment? Well, what would happen if containment failed?

You’d have what they called the Domino Theory. This was the stuff of American nightmares for decades.

The Domino Theory stated that if containment failed and Communism spilled out from one of its castles, say Cuba or Vietnam, neighboring countries would rapidly become Communist, too.

It would be like dominoes tipping over in a chain reaction.

Now if the dominoes were to be kept stable, not only would American allies have to be armed, but they’d have to be ideologically reliable.

Which is why a paper like NSC-68 is so important. It not only allowed American national security policy to be understood within official circles, it made it possible to indoctrinate others in its principles.

It’s no surprise, then, that the American concept of national security and the apparatus to sustain it, was rapidly copied by governments all over the world. President Carlos P. Garcia became the first Philippine President to establish a National Security Council. We had an NSC prior to martial law, and we’ve had one ever since the restoration of constitutional democracy in 1987.

Executive Order No. 292, otherwise known as “The Administrative Code of 1987,” was enacted during the wide sweeping powers granted President Corazon Aquino prior to the ratification of the 1987 Constitution. It retained and formalized the National Security Council (Title VII, Chapter 2) with the following responsibilities which I’d like you to read:


“The formulation of integrated and rationalized national, foreign, military, political, economic, social and educational policies, programs, and procedures vital to the security of the state.”


Its members include the President, Vice-President, the Executive Secretary, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of Justice, the Secretary of Labor, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Security Adviser, and such other government officers or private individuals that the President may appoint.

Traditionally, beginning with President Garcia’s invitation to former President Sergio Osmena to be a member, former presidents have sat in the National Security Council. Under President Aquino, it only convened twice; most national security matters were handled by what came to be known as Cluster E of the cabinet.

President Ramos, for one, has a Master’s in National Security from the National Defense College of the Philippines –and his administration was very conscious of National Security. He appointed Jose Almonte to be he his National Security Adviser, giving him a prominence never achieved by his Aquino-era predecessors, such as General Ileto.

Ramos, by virtue of an administrative order, expanded the scope of the NSC to include not only security and political stability, but also the economy and social development; the power of the NSC directorate over the other intelligence agencies of the government, was expanded.

By President Arroyo’s time, national security had become the responsibility of the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Internal Security or Cocis. She abolished this in September of 2004. President Arroyo, who has a strong creative urge with regards to the bureaucracy, has also modified the provisions on the National Security Council. She replaced it with the National Security Council cluster, composed of the  National Security Adviser, chairman of the Mindanao Economic Development Council and the secretaries of the interior and local government, justice, defense, foreign affairs and the presidential advisers on the peace process and constituency affairs.

In May of this year, President Arroyo changed the setup once more. Under Administrative Order 150 signed last May, we now have what’s known as the National Security Council Cabinet Group, the term cluster apparently having become unfashionable.


The NSC group now consists of the-


National Security Adviser

Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs

Secretary, Department of National Defense

Secretary, Department of the Interior and Local Government

Secretary, Department of Justice

Press Secretary

Presidential Chief of Staff

Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

Director-General, Philippine Information Agency

Chairman, Dangerous Drugs Board

Chairman, National Broadcasting Network

Chairperson, Presidential Anti-Graft Commission


Which is a good indication of whose in and whose out; and what National Security really covers –which is, everything.

And yes, as with many of our officials acts, revisions in what we think and how we do them are based on what America’s up to.

The United States, which gave birth to the national security apparatus idea, it has periodically revised the national security doctrines of the USA, and published them for the guidance both of American officials and the public, as well as the world.

The latest revision was undertaken by the present Bush administration and boils down its principles into the following salient points: anyone who’se done a mission and vision exercise ca immediately recognize what’s at the heart of any national security doctrine.

America’s latest  “Overview of America’s International Strategy” states that the US government will:

Champion Aspirations for Human Dignity”; “Strengthen Alliances to Defeat Global Terrorism and Work to Prevent Attacks Against Us and Our Friends”; “Work with others to Defuse Regional Conflicts”; “Prevent Our Enemies from Threatening Us, Our Allies, and Our Friends with Weapons of Mass Destruction”; Ignite a New Era of Global Economic Growth through Free Markets and Free Trade”; “Expand the Circle of Development by Opening Societies and Building the Infrastructure of Democracy”; “Develop Agendas for Cooperative Action with the Other Main Centers of Global Power”; and “Transform America’s National Security Institutions to Meet the Challenges and Opportunities of the Twenty-First Century.

These headings by themselves give a rather thorough overview of American strategic interests, available to friend or foe alike. Which leads us to ask –where is the Philippine equivalent? That’s what we’ll be discussing with our guest when we return.




An official of the Department of National Defense once approached me, to see if I was interested in a discussion on the national interest. You see, he said, the problem is we haven’t even defined what the national interest is.

Beyond the question of American bureaucratic fashions, the idea of national security is attractive to governments, because it makes sense, strategically and tactically. Even the People’s Republic of China is debating whether to set up its own NSC. Russia has had one since the fall of Communism.

The conception of national security in the Philippine setting seems more obsessed with cloak-and-dagger operations, rather than genuine policy-making. We have been subjected to the working of a National Security Adviser. Norberto Gonzales, who is only the latest in a line of such advisers who makes you wonder whether they simply dispense advice on a case-by-case basis, rather than according to the thought-out, and spelled-out, security interests of the country.



Manuel L. Quezon III.

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